America has been defeated twice in the region, once by Iran (in Iraq) and once now in Afghanistan by Pakistan. But the “victors” are in trouble before they could taste the fruits of their victories. And the reason in both cases is their economies.
On April 18, 2012, Iran met the permanent members of the UN Security Council including the US, Russia and China, plus Germany, to negotiate the Iranian “bomb”. Surprisingly, Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium to the 20 per cent level, and undertook to halt work at an underground facility near Qom built for higher enrichment. Iran will now export its stockpile of highly enriched uranium for final processing to 20 per cent, and use it in its medical isotopes.
Iran’s economy lurched menacingly after President Barack Obama got the US Congress to almost unanimously pass sanctions against foreign financial institutions engaged in transactions with Iran’s central bank, the main conduit for the country’s energy deals. Despite their non-acceptance of the sanctions, Russia and China want it to abandon the “bomb”. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei says Islam doesn’t allow the making of nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s economy is lurching, too, because of America’s punitive measures and Pakistan’s international isolation. Ahmed Rashid writes in Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West (Allen Lane 2012): “While the US asks for the elimination of all terrorist groups on Pakistani soil, the army insists on maintaining the Taliban and the Haqqani network until a suitable Afghan settlement has been reached that satisfies the Pakistani military” (p.160).
The Pakistan Army receives more than $2 billion every year in various kinds of military aid from the US, and losing that could prove to be destabilising in the army itself (p.161).
The civilian government — which is facing a judicial probe alleging pro-US plot against the Army — will be hamstrung even more: Pakistan has been getting nearly $3 billion in annual military and economic aid since 2001. It also needs the US to maintain its loans from primary lenders such as the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the EU, and Japan. A confrontation with the US could mean that Pakistan loses $4.8 billion annually in foreign assistance (p.169).
Pakistan has also showed Iran-like flexibility. The army, which runs the country de facto, gave a green signal for the resumption of the Nato supplies through Pakistan, stopped since last year. But having unleashed the country’s powerful non-state actors on the ruling politicians in the shape of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, it is now equally under pressure from them.
The real clash with the US is not over Nato supplies: “The truth is that the Pakistan Army is unwilling to deploy adequate numbers of troops and airpower in Fata and doesn’t want to go up against groups whom it considered friendly, including the Haqqanis” (p.174).
Pakistan, “victor” over the Soviet Union and now the US — through its non-state actors — can be subjected to war over the foreign Taliban located on its soil. The US has already intensified drone strikes against North Waziristan, coming threateningly close to bombing Miranshah, the main town where the Haqqani network is located, and “where some 15,000 Pakistani troops are also based”. Until now Miranshah has been off-limits to US drone attacks “because of the presence of Pakistani troops” (p.183).
The judges and the generals prefer not to look at the national economy because it is devoid of honour and is enemy of isolationism. The latest “realistic” decision to allow Nato supplies to pass through will cause a popular backlash facilitating Taliban attacks on the supply routes.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2012.
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